Chris Belhorn is spending part of his summer vacation providing food and clothing to those in need locally on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Chris, a junior from Chapel Hill majoring in political science, is co-president of Project Rush Hour, which will also conduct a food drive in July.
Emily Hulkower, an Asheville senior majoring in biology, is volunteering in the hand rehabilitation center at UNC Hospitals. As a member of the Student Health Action Committee, she also provides information about nutrition, exercise, disease prevention and child and maternal health to patients at a free clinic in Carrboro. And she helps children get the most out of their visits to the Kidzu Museum by helping them understand some of the exhibits there.
Emily and Chris are enrolled in the Public Service Scholars program. These very special students help those less fortunate than themselves, both around the world and right here in the university's backyard, even during their well-deserved summer break.
Public Service Scholars exemplify the spirit of service at Carolina, the nation's first public university. Open to students majoring in any subject, the Public Service Scholars program provides a framework for undergraduates who want to strengthen their commitment to service. Students explore various service learning opportunities, meet others who share an interest in similar issues, learn new skills and link their academic experience to making a difference in their community.
To graduate as a Public Service Scholar, each student must complete at least 300 documented hours of service -- although the average Public Service Scholar puts in many more hours than the minimum. Each scholar must also have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, take one service-learning course and attend four skills-training workshops.
The program was launched through the Carolina Center for Public Service, which strengthens the university's public service commitment by promoting scholarship and service that are responsive to the concerns of the state and contribute to the common good. Since the creation of the Public Service Scholars program in 2003, more than 1,000 scholars have logged 200,000 hours of service collectively.
The 96 graduating scholars who proudly claimed their Carolina blue and white cords to wear at commencement in May had completed an average of almost 450 hours per graduate. These scholars have since gone on to jobs in teaching or health care or to prepare for graduate degrees in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and law. Some have joined the Peace Corps, Teach for America or Habitat for Humanity, while others will be working with orphans in the Dominican Republic, volunteering in rural Nepal or protecting children in the Congo.
But before their far-flung pursuits, these graduates put in many hours of selfless volunteering in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County.
"I came to Carolina with a strong desire to make connections between my education and my community," said 2007 Public Service Scholar graduate Melanie Pace of Charlotte, who worked with the Scholars' Latino Initiative, which pairs Carolina sophomores as mentors to high school sophomores in Siler City. "I have found myself humbled by the selfless dedication of my peers and the hopeful discovery that, although one person can't save the world, people working together can begin to change it for the better."
The good work begun by scholars like Melanie is being carried on by Chris, Emily and all the other students enrolled in this rapidly growing program, which has climbed from 78 students in 2003 to 1,117 this year.
This Saturday, the hard-working students in the Public Service Scholars program who are living here will be at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service Community Kitchen in Chapel Hill, serving lunch to the homeless.
They are turning their summer vacation into a season of service.
James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages